Oregon has operated one of the most proficient offenses in college football lately. However, last week marked the second consecutive year in which the Cardinal have stymied the Ducks. David Shaw’s squad has pulled that off by playing a non-glamorous brand of physical football focused on controlling the line of scrimmage. Even as Stanford’s brawny nerds from the offensive line and front seven have graduated on to riches in the NFL and venture capital firms, the Cardinal have continued to thrive playing their rugged style.
As the spread offense has radiated out across football on all levels, teams such as Stanford and Wisconsin stand out just as much for going retro. The Michael Lewises used to write about the Mike Leaches. Now, it’s Nick Saban getting a “60 Minutes” profile and Shaw giving TED talks.
After years of running one of the most proficient pass-centric offenses in college football, OU’s attack has ground to a halt this year. Not surprisingly, power football fetishists are pushing for Bob Stoops to adopt the Stanford model and give up chucking and ducking.
This is a classic case of mistaking correlation for causation. People see successful teams playing one style of ball and assume that’s why they’re winning.
The anecdotal argument that power football is king conveniently ignores plenty of evidence to the contrary. For every salient case where a pro-style team has pounded a spread squad, you can find a counterexample. For instance, the spreaders at Texas A&M handed ‘Bama its only loss of 2012 and played the Crimson Tide tighter than anyone else so far this year. Then there’s Oklahoma State, which won the 2012 Fiesta Bowl by spreading out none other than Stanford.
I could go on and on, but if you’re looking for an argument that’s a little more tangible, check out the top of the offensive efficiency metrics from the last few years. You won’t find a meaningful relationship with style of play.
The best teams in college football don’t win because of how they play. They win because they have good players and good coaches. Put simply, they do what they do really well – better than their opponents. And when opponents scheme to take away what they do well, they can adjust.
The Sooners are struggling on O because, frankly, they don’t do too much well. Not to mention, they can’t adapt when defenses marshall their resources against OU’s core competencies.
OU clearly needs to refine its offense for a host of reasons. (The Pistol experiment earlier this year felt like a step in the right direction.) If Stoops opts for an entirely new offensive scheme that’s more traditional in the offseason, you won’t get any argument here.
But no one should mistake that for some magic bullet. Whatever Stoops and his coaching staff decide going forward, the key is developing an identity, not copying a specific scheme.